Sunday, 19 February 2012
London Ultra - Race Report
Despite the £40 entry fee (ouch!) I felt comfortable to be only 7 miles from the start and in need of a lie in....which I got as it was a 9.00am start. After saying goodbye to the amazing Mrs UB, I started to get some utterly negative feelings about the nature of ultra racer queuing up in front of my to pick up race numbers. It felt to me like a very corporate event; shiny new gear, some downright odd to the bizarre. For a checkpoint every 10km and through the London Capital Ring, runners would never be more than minutes from food and drink. This felt like the line up to some multi-day ultra. Most people seemed to be in trail shoes!As many readers would know, London pavement is synonymous with mud and scree trail! Not only that, this ultra fraternity were significantly overdressed in every conceivable thermal fabric and waterproof. Now granted, some of these chaps may have been trying out new equipment for an MdS attempt but this looked like a Yukon Arctic Ultra attempt.
With my trusty Asics, a Helly top and a water bottle, I lined up for a start by Mr Rory Coleman himself. I met him at the finish and actually despite the razzamatazz, the guy is down to earth and genuine and if he encourages more to run long, then good on him.
So to the race. Start to CP1 was all on tarmac path. The field split up quickly to the point of me thinking that most of the people at the start had taken a wrong turn. Apart from the first couple of km, I know the first 15 miles like the back of my hand so the map went away. I settled into a 8.30s pace and found myself amongst unfamiliar faces. In fact, I have never been to an ultra event and not known anyone.....but hey-ho, an opportunity to meet new friends!
All was well until the underpass below New Beckenham railway. Over the last few days a 25m puddle that covered the entire underpass with 4 inches of good old cold water stopped about 40 runners. "Is there another way around?" I said, yes, but you will add on another 1/2 a km. "Mr-and-Mrs-new-running-gear" duly detoured while I ran through and got slightly damp but nonetheless happy with my own resolve. CP1 arrived and the amazing Mrs UB, only yards from home gave me a kiss and wished me well. Capital Ring signs flowed thick and fast and I was just draining my bottle down my throat when George and Glen from the running club dived out of an alley near Alexandra Park and ran with me for a few miles. It was great to catch up with the guys on this sunny but cold morning. George, as ever was in a t-shirt with the temperature only about 2 degrees! At the top of Palace, I had realised that a lot of runners were going the wrong way so I took a cut through Palace Parade as we had missed a CR waymarker. A bunch of guys trusted my judgement and I rewarded them with a direct route back onto the course, not adding any unnecessary kms.
Across Westow Park, Norwood Park and to CP2 at Streatham Common. I paused for some Snickers and was duly dropped from the small group I was with. Settling into my own pace I hunkered down, picking off the odd runner here and there. I settled into a rhythm and found myself in a group of 4. One runner, John, was not clad in the state of the art lycra with all the accouterments of these other runners so we seemed to gel. i would not say that I am from the old-school, but I've done a few events now and I know the need to travel light and scavenge well at CPs. John was on marathon 28. he had run his longest run, a 30 miler at the Downland Ultra in the summer. We chatted long about the event as I had run it a few mins slower than him. John stated that he lived near Richmond so knew the back end of the course well. This was a match made in heaven!
Tooting Bec and Wandsworth common came and went. CP3 was bestowed with my fave ultra drink......a nice cold can of Coke! After much burping and belching, we settled into a good clip over to Wimbledon and then over the hilly and windy Richmond Park. Some of the route followed the bank of England XC in Jan and runners of that will know the headwind up the relentless hill in the middle.
At this point we were carving up the field and taking no prisoners. On these pocket ultras, the time for the serious work is after mile 20. There are some that go off the line like the clappers. Hardcore pros like Stuart Mills can do that sort of thing.....but so many runners go off far too hard at the start, maybe gaining a minute or so a mile, only to lose 6/8 mins a mile by walking or jogging intermittently over the last 8 miles. I believe far more time is lost in the last quarter of a race like this than is ever gained at the start. Not only that, it must be so demoralising to be overtaken by a chirpy, lanky northerner like me! We joined the river to the final CP. Into headwind all the way and after another coke and maltloaf, John started to fade. Into Syon Park and I was alone again. This section through Brentford to Perivale was technical, many twists and turns and lots of surface water. 8.5 miles from the final CP to the finish was probably a bit long for some. I really blasted from 40-48kms, overtaking quite a few runners. I made a couple of hash ups and missed the signs, but by this time I was a bit tired mentally, but my legs were still pounding away. This was my fastest XC 30 miler to date, as I knocked off the miles in 4.30 and the last 2.5 miles came and went along a particularly forgettable stretch of canal and fields. I thought we would have a lap of the track but the finish came up on me with 32.5 miles under the belt in 4 hours 50 mins and a nice medal and mug from Mr Coleman himself.
A well organised run and would do this again.......save for the exorbitant entrance fee.
I will be seeing John at the Steyning Stinger in 2 weeks and after a hot cup of tea at the finish it was off home and to buy Mrs UB a much-deserved bunch of flowers for being most excellent.